Posted on: October 8, 2013
Here’s to a year of believing in myself.
To taking time for myself.
For loving and appreciating who I am as a woman of color, as a lesbian as a Jew.
Here’s to not taking anything in my life for granted and blessing Gd for the gifts that often go unnoticed.
Here’s to saying no to preserve my sanity and to do more things for me.
Here’s to being selectively selfish and doing things for others out of the goodness of my heart and pure desire.
Here’s to spending more time listening and less time talking.
Here’s to calling my mother more.
Here’s to letting forgiveness for my sister, her addiction and it’s toll on our family into my heart…maybe, just a little bit.
Here’s to a wedding and a baby or whatever comes first.
Here’s to happiness in its purest form.
Here’s to enjoying the space I’m in.
Here’s to me, Erika Batyah Davis.
Here’s to 34 more years + 20 + 10
Posted on: October 4, 2013
“…so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” Bere’shit 8:4
“In Syrian tradition, as well as in Quranic tradition, the specific summit of the “Mountains of Ararat” where Noah’s ark landed is identified as Mount Judi in what is today Şırnak Province, Southeastern Anatolia Region, Turkey. In the Armenian tradition and Western Christianity, based on Jerome‘s reading of Josephus, the mountain became associated with Mount Masis (now known as Mount Ararat) the highest peak of the Armenian Highland, located in present day Turkey.”-Wikipedia
“The mainstays of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calnec in the land of Shinar.”-Bere’shit 10:10
“Erech, Sumerian Uruk, Greek Orchoë, modern Tall al-Warkāʾ, ancient Mesopotamian city located northwest of Ur (Tall Al-Muqayyar) in southeastern Iraq.”-Encyclopedia Britannica
“In the past, many have argued with me about the true location of the land of Shinar. I, among a majority of scholars in the same field, have identified this to mean the land of Sumer. While the Sumerians themselves called their land ki-en-gir (“place of the civilized lords”), the name Sumer is derived from the Akkadian Shumer. Shinar is simply a Hebrew corruption of the Akkadian word. It literally translates to “country of two rivers” which could only mean the Tigris and Euphrates when taking into account the cities mentioned above. Erech/Uruk, Akkad/Agade, and Babylon 1 existed nowhere else but the land of Shinar. In times past, early rulers used to differentiate the lands between Sumer and Akkad when boasting of their achievements, making the one the southern kingdom (Sumer) and the other the northern kingdom (Akkad).”-Peter Koutoupis
Let’s say the Garden of Eden is located in modern-day Lebanon. The Bible tells us that Cain then goes and the land of Nod which is east of Eden. In Hebrew this means wandering so it’s a bit unclear until we read that Cain has a son named Enoch, a place close to modern-day Nigeria in West Central Africa. We read about who begot whom and we end this weeks parasha with the descendants of Noah around Babylon which is roughly near modern day Baghdad.
We’ve walked over 12,563 miles! and depending on the route we passed through at least 3 African countries or taken a trip through the southern part of Spain, Italy and Greece. In Torah people live to be 900 years or older and G-d has already wiped out all life on the globe and we spent all that time rocking on an ark for a few months. That probably helped help us with that migration. ;)
Last year Google let me map all of this and this year, unfortunately, it’s telling me that you can’t walk from country to country-but we’ll see what we can do.
Posted on: October 3, 2013
Last June I started the Jewish Geography Project and it sort of fizzled away. This year, I am committed to working on it and, well, damn I’m already a parasha (Torah portion) behind.
I realized, going back, that I forgot a few key identifiers in the first go around so decided to start fresh with the rivers named in Chapter 2 of Genesis. This week’s parasha is Noah, which I’ll post before Friday and then we’ll be back on track.
Not the kind you’re thinking of. Real geography. Go take out a map of the world and a copy of the Tanakh and let’s play!
Without further adieu, Bereshit:
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. From there it divided and became four major rivers.
Venahar yotse me’Eden lehashkot et-hagan umisham yipared vehayah le-arba’ah rashim.
The name of the first is Pishon. It surrounds the entire land of Havilah where gold is found.
Shem ha’echad Pishon hu hasovev et kol-erets haChavilah asher-sham hazahav.
The gold of that land is [especially] good. Also found there are pearls and precious stones.
Uzahav ha’arets hahi tov sham habedolach ve’even hashoham.
The name of the second river is Gihon. It surrounds the land of Cush.
Veshem hanahar hasheni Gichon hu hasovev et kol-erets Kush.
The name of the third river is the Tigris which flows to the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
Veshem hanahar hashlishi Chidekel hu haholech kidemat Ashur vehanahar ha revi’i hu Ferat.
Posted on: October 2, 2013
An article is fast circulating the Jewishsphere the past two days. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” an article by the Pew Report has even made it’s way to the NY Times with various comments and commentary on a variety of Jewish Facebook groups and Twitter Feeds.
As a JBC, the article doesn’t necessarily apply to me. I wasn’t born Orthodox and decided later in life to self-identify as a non-practicing or non-religions Jew, I chose to be a Jew. That said, and after last year’s Jewish hiatus only two years post-conversion, I can honestly say that if you’re not inspired by your religion or your community no longer supports the person that you are then it can be hard to be a Jew in a largely secular world.
“The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.”
“…most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.”
Posted on: September 30, 2013
I know what you’re thinking. How can Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the day of chest thumping, the day of the endless synagogue service, the day with out food, without water where we dress in the same sack cloths we should be buried in, how can that day be the best holiday yet?
Two Words (that are a name) Joey.Weisenberg
Joey Weisenberg, the Music Director for Kane Street Synagogue, holds a High Holiday Service on Bergen street, a few blocks away from the main service and sanctuary. I showed up rather early for Kol Nidre to the school that would substitute as a synagogue for the next 26 hours because I knew that in order to get seats I’d need to be there early. When I arrived, a Spanish man, his son and his Jewish wife were also in the lobby of the school. They were guests and wanted to know where service was and when it would start. We chit-chatted and I mentioned that it was my first time at Kol Nidre at Kane Street and the Spanish gentlemen commented, “We’re both new to this, as non-Jews!”
“I’m Jewish,” I corrected politely. “The lesson is that you can’t make assumptions.”
He didn’t ask any more “how” questions and instead asked what should he expect-it was his first Kol Nidre. I told him that while I’d never experienced Kol Nidre at Kane Street, I was sure based on Joey ‘s Friday night Shabbat services, that it would be amazing. And I was right.
Posted on: September 24, 2013
A few days before I left for Isabella Freedman for the Ride I had the most vivid dream-My 1st Doula Mama was in labor! I woke up with a start and looked over at my phone (which was on vibrate but I slept through) she’d text messaged me contraction times. As I looked at her text, the numbers and calculated quickly in my head I saw that she was having “pains” as she said about 10 minutes apart-not yet in active labor. I called her, but it was an hour after her text so she’d fallen back asleep-definitely not in active labor yet.
While in the woods I got a message from my back up doula that my Mom was starting to lose her mucous plug. Her contractions were still sporadic with no clear patterns so I didn’t fret too much.
She had a planned induction because of age and a variety of other factors and while we hoped that she’d go early, even if it meant I would miss her birth, we thought it would be best that she give birth as naturally as possible. We knew that if they started an induction, the likelihood of her going on to have more medical interventions was greater.
This Mama was a single woman so my back up doula and I met with her at the hospital on Tuesday afternoon…and I didn’t leave her side until early Thursday morning after she gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Wednesday evening at 10:56PM.
The birth was long and exhausting and in the end, she only pushed about 6 times before her baby boy made his entrance into the world. It was, without a doubt, the single most life-altering experience of my life. And I haven’t said that since being in the Holy Land.
On Rosh Hashanah, it is said that the world is born and on this Rosh Hashanah, the Head of the Year, the beginning of 5774, I watched a life be born. I cut him from his mother and my arms were the second arms this little one was cradled in. That little boy was the first baby I was a doula for and since him I’ve scheduled four other Mamas. Being by his Mom’s side on Rosh Hashanah, holding her hand and comforting her while she brought life into the world was the most precious gift I could’ve ever received. It was the best and in the end, the only way I was supposed to spend Rosh Hashanah this year. I could’ve been at shul, and I heard Amichai’s service was amazing, but being in that hospital exhausted and at the very end of my rope supporting a Mother in labor; emotionally, physically and mentally was truly magical. It was exactly what I needed to start the year-a reminder that life is always changing, always evolving and that life exists so that we can live it.
It was also confirmation that the choice to be a doula is the right one. The one-on-one support between a doula and a mother, especially a single mother, is so vital and I feel incredibly blessed to be walking down this path.
Posted on: September 23, 2013
We’re 2.5 holidays in with one more to go and I’m so happy! I gotta tell you, guys. I haven’t felt this jazzed, inspired, awed and so moved by Judaism in a whole year.
You may have noticed that sometime around Rosh Hashanah last year I sort of stopped blogging frequently. My normally inward thinking, reflective posts gave way to a bevy of cross-posts and other stuff that really had little to do with me and my Judaism.
This was partially to do with the fact or idea that I wasn’t sure I had more to give. I’ve already converted, what else could I share about my journey that you couldn’t learn or read from another Jew-chosen or born?
It was also to do with the fact that I was so underwhelmed and uninspired by High Holiday services last year.
So I buried myself in my other work and sort of neglected the blog. I know we’re past Elul and season of apologies, but I am truly sorry that I’ve been so distant on this space that I cherish so much. And thank you for being dedicated to reading the blog even though the content has been lacking. It is truly appreciated.
So, I’m back and let me tell you this High Holiday was the absolute best HH experience I’ve had.
Pre Rosh Hashanah Holiness
As you know, I work for the Jewish environmental organization, Hazon. My time there has been pretty extraordinary. It took about a year for me to get my groove and after a job change I’m finally getting the swing of things and feeling like a vital part of the organization. This year, like every year, we held our annual NY Ride and Retreat at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT in the beautiful Berkshires.
The retreat, while restful for participants, is quite busy and hectic for staff. We work pretty long hours and don’t have much down time to enjoy much of the programming but on Shabbat things blessedly slow down. Since it’s Shabbat we can’t “work” and while we’re expected to staff things like Yoga or meditation we can pretty much enjoy Shabbat.
Being at Freedman is always magical. The environment helps, but it’s also nice to be in a Jewish space. Walking down the “street” of Freedman from Friday – Saturday evening feels like being on a kibbutz in Israel. Everyone wishes you a happy Shabbat and meals end in spirited, joyful pray and song.
Late afternoon on Saturday I sat exhausted from my keynote with Ruth Messinger and Val Lieber-two female powerhouses in the Jewish community. (More on that later, but WOW!)
I sat on the sundrenched porch with friends old and new talking and debating about going to the Mincha service in the synagogue. I thought I wanted to go, but wasn’t super inspired to do much of anything but sitting with friends. I reluctantly pulled myself off the bench and made my way to the packed synagogue where Amichai Lau-Lavie, the ED of LabShul/Storahtelling was already deep into the service. I can’t describe it, really, but the combination of his charismatic presence, the day and the participants shook me to my core. He called people up for aliyah in a way that I’ve never seen and can’t articulate accurately but it was so … moving. So moving, in fact, I didn’t take the aliyah I wanted because I was so nervous that I’d sob uncontrollably (and embarrassingly) in front of my boss among others.
The aliyot were for those who wanted to be rocks, those who wanted to fly and those who wanted to…shit, I don’t remember what, but it was based on the parasha of Moses giving his final message to the Israelites before going into the Promised Land. And I know I’m not giving the magic that wast his mincha service the credit it deserves in my poor ability to explain it, I think the fact that I can’t describe it in words says a lot about how powerful it was. Instead of taking an aliyah I sat and marveled at the spirit stirring in my being. I fought back tears of gratitude-I was still connected to this faith that had mystified me for nearly a year.
When service concluded I approached Amichai, who I’d often seen in our offices and expressed my gratitude. Yasher koach wasn’t sufficient. I needed him to know that he helped rekindle the flame that was the passion for Judaism on my terms. We gushed over one another for a bit and he extended an invitation to join him for Rosh Hashanah at LabShul. I’d already made plans-I joined Kane Street Synagogue, the shul I’d attended for the past year and a half, but happy accepted his invitation…
Up Next- Rosh Hashanah … in a hospital
Posted on: August 30, 2013
After writing the piece on The Sisterhood about the sometimes woes that new Jews sometimes feel on the High Holidays, I decided to compile a list of welcoming, inclusive synagogues in and around the NY Area. I hoped to have a mightier list, but alas, this is what happens when you plan something at the last minute.
Thankfully, quite a few of you reached out to me singing the praises of your communities or communities you have visited so without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are some welcoming, open, diverse and sometimes free or low cost options for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Kol Tzedek Synagogue, West Philadelphia (born and raised)
Erika (not me) had this to say about this synagogue in the Philly Area:
My favorite place for High Holidays is Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia. Services are open to all, no tickets required, and extremely inclusive, welcoming, and meaningful.”
Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, CA
Nina on Facebook had this to say about Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco:
“I don’t think the tix are free, but if someone NEEDED them, I think they would figure it out. They are free to members. The whole synagogue is great. It’s very diverse, racially, culturally, and gay and straight. Also age-wise. Older people and many children. They try to do something creative on Yom Kippur, often involving dance and theater and multi-media. (Or maybe that’s on Rosh Hashanah–sorry I forget!)
It’s amazing, though, with kids and adults working together.
In terms of denomination, I think it’s considered reform with a conservative feel to it. In other words, a lot of Hebrew, but also a lot of flexibility. Rabbi and Cantor, but lots of lay leadership. I could go on.
Both my sons were Bar Mitzvah there, and it was a great experience for them and the whole family.”
Chevra Ahavas Yisroel Brooklyn, NY
Here in NYC the Crown Heights shul, Chevra Ahavas Yisroel gets rave reviews.
Miriam says, “If you’re willing to consider an Orthodox shul (by definition non-egalitarian), I suggest Chevra Ahavas Yisroel in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Yes, it’s Chassidic and women can’t lead services, but the rabbi is adamant about including us in every area that is sanctioned by halacha, even in things that are considered radical in the neighborhood. The Sefer Torah is brought through the women’s section, women speak at shul functions such as (non-segregated) kiddushim, etc. Nobody shoots the women down if they join in the singing. I think the men take it as a challenge – if they can hear the women, it means they aren’t singing loud enough!
Everyone is made to feel welcome here. I have seen a woman in a tallit and men in colorful tallitot. There are often women wearing pants or even dressed in an androgynous style, as well as men wearing imaginative hippie garb. Nobody says an unkind word if you arrive on Shabbat with a backpack. Last Friday night a woman came with a service dog. A friend who is well known (especially locally) as a gay activist comes here whenever he is in town, and I have seen the rabbi give him a big hug at a shul function. We have Black Jews, Asian Jews, and even a Black Asian Jew.
And we know how to make some noise! We don’t need no stinkin’ choir. The whole congregation joins in, harmonizing to traditional Chassidic nigunim (Chabad as well as others), the nigunim of R’Carlebach, even a song composed by a Reconstructionist rabbi. The shul is known for its enthusiastic singing and beautiful harmonies. We’ve got a lot of criticism from local people, of course, some of whose own kids might not be involved in Judaism if not for our shul. But we also enjoy the support of several prestigious local families.”
Central Reform Congregati
Dena says, “Temple Sholom in Cincinnati does not charge for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. We have room every year for more guests. Also, the services are streamed online for people who cannot leave home.”
Don’t worry, friends in Canada! I haven’t forgotten about you, well John on Facebook hasn’t
“Shalom. Here are three Queer Positive/Feminist Synagogues in Toronto. Narayever and Darchei Noam specifically offer reduced rates or flex playment.
Storahtelling has a free service here in NYC. I work with the team at Storahtelling and know that their services are engaging, opening and welcoming. If you’re in NYC be sure to check it out.
Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn NY
Alana from Brooklyn sings Kolot’s praises:
We invite you to join Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives for progressive High Holiday services in Brooklyn. No tickets, just come, and bring family and friends!
Services led by:
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann Cantor Lisa Segal
Family Services led by Aram Rubenstein-Gillis and Franny Silverman
Kolot Chayeinu comes together in song, prayer, food and Torah for the High Holy Days and all other Jewish holidays. Kolot Chayeinu’s doors are open all year long to everyone, as are these High Holy Days services and celebrations.
We will be meeting at the Walt Whitman Theater of Brooklyn College, which is a spacious, air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible space with a child-friendly lounge. Accessible by the 2 & 5 trains & public buses, with parking on campus and shuttles running to and from Park Slope.
Learn more about Kolot Chayeinu, our High Holiday services schedule please see their website.
Do you have a synagogue that’s not included on this list? Send it to me and I’ll be sure to add it!
Posted on: August 13, 2013
From Jewels of Elul
We welcome the companionship but wish the circumstances were different. Will we know the meit (the deceased) or recognize the body that was loaned to him for his journey on this earth? We were told his name and the name of his parents – not much more. We know even less about his neshama, his soul, the essence of his being. But it is our task to usher his soul onward, to help him continue on his journey.
Entering the tahara room, we ask forgiveness for anything that we may do that might be inappropriate. Thetahara (purification) requires us to clean him and lovingly pour water over him. We dress him in whitetachrichim (burial garments), raising him to a level of symbolic purity, and then place him in the aron (wooden casket). At the cemetery he will continue his journey back to the earth and forward toward eternal life, into the heavenly sphere where, perchance, he will meet the Divine. His neshama and the memory of him will live on long after his body has returned to the earth.
We all live along the continuum of life – some at the beginning, others in the middle, and yet others at the end. At each stage, we need to be greeted and welcomed. Those of us in the Chevra Kadisha (Holy Society) hear it said often that we cannot be repaid for this mitzvah. But we also know that we really are repaid in the knowledge that we have comforted the family, assisted the soul, connected with our team, and developed a greater respect for the gift of life.
We are repaid with the understanding that every soul is precious and every human being is unique. We are repaid with the ability to see the world with new eyes.
Posted on: August 9, 2013
The first is from My Jewish Learning
The hebrew letters that spell out the name of the Jewish month that we have just entered – Elul – are described in the Talmud as an acronym for the phrase from Song of Songs: ‘Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li‘ – I am my beloved and my beloved in mine. Traditionally this has often been a time that rabbis have expounded on the invitation for us to use this month, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, to rediscover or recommit to a relationship with God. Like two lovers who may have become distanced, we yearn to be in stronger relationship with each other. Thinking about our relationship with God is no easy matter. In previous years as we’ve entered this month, I’ve contemplated the challenges that many of us have with accessing a sense of relationship with God, and suggested ways to begin a conversation.
But this year, my focus for myself, and for my congregation, are the relationships and connections that we make with other people. These may be more concrete that contemplating a relationship with God, but they are certainly no less challenging. And yet, as the scholar Brene Brown articulates so beautifully, “Connection is why we’re here. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
Think about the kinds of experiences that make you feel good. A good meal out with friends consists of both the food and the company, but the food alone would be unlikely to satisfy us to the extent that the time spent in good company (without the food) could. When you invite people to your home, and the time flies by in conversation and you suddenly realize it is midnight… and you find yourself wondering why it took so long to get together. Relationship-making and connecting with others is at the heart of so much of what sustains us, both for pleasure and in the context of our professional lives.
It can also be a source of pain to us. And part of this is because it requires us to be vulnerable to truly open ourselves up to the possibilities of connecting more deeply with others. Once we’ve created a few ‘safe’ connections, we form cliques and groups, and might insulate ourselves from the vulnerability inherent in continuing to expand our connections.
I believe that the work of a spiritual community is to challenge ourselves to do more. Why? Because the benefits we will reap individually and communally can be enormous. When you can think of 20 people who will be there for you rather than 2, that is a wonderful experience. When you respond to the need of another ‘just because’ they are a part of your community, that comes with its own feel-good. We can feel less selfish, more expansive, more aware, more supported, more energized, and more inspired. We can feel more alive.
And, perhaps, it is in fact in the spiritual practice of connection and relationship-building with each other that we actually experience a spiritual connection too. We discover, in fact, that God was there all along.
This month I will be posting thought-pieces on connecting on my personal blog and our congregation’s Facebook page. We are preparing to make this the focus of our community work over the High Holidays and beyond. We will also be creating opportunities for meaningful connecting within the context of our worship services during the holiday period. My focus is on my congregation, because I believe that we have the opportunity to create a ‘community of practice‘ within the context of a congregation. But opportunities for connection exist in every place and every moment. Think of the connections you’ve made, however fleeting, talking with the woman on the bus, or the family playing on the beach next to you, or while waiting at the photocopier. Not every connection leads to more, but its a great way to start.
My friend and Rabbi, Lisa Grushcow posted the following on Facebook about Hallel from the blog The Wingnut Family
Anna’s thoughts on Elul
OK, getting back to Hallel – I did say I wanted to write about it. It was a few days ago, but hey, it’s still worth talking about! If you’ve never taken the 15-20 minutes to do the Hallel at home, at the beginning of each new month, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s just a reading and singing of a few psalms, and there’s no time like the present to read Jewish writings. You can’t sing? That’s OK, I can’t either. You can sound terrible; God doesn’t mind. Alternatively, you can find an online Hallel that you like to listen to – or just read all the psalms and that has its merit too.
The psalms are all about praising God for the good things God has done for us. They’re old-fashioned (the bible is a bit earlier than hashtags for example, which I’m going to use for the first time today) and so some of the wording is a bit much. I don’t usually want to have my enemies be consumed as a brush fire, no matter how annoying their car horns were on the road today. However, praising God is a worthwhile task. Gratitude is essential and Hallel is one way to say “life is good” and to remind ourselves of this truth. During Elul, when people are looking at mistakes they’ve made, it’s often nice to just look at the good that God has done, and take that moment to rejoice.
Hallel has stuff for people who just aren’t in a positive mood as well, though. There have been many times I’ve sung Hallel angry, or sad, and been lifted by the words. Feeling hurt, I found a pleasure in reading “I will cut them off,” and realizing that I can make boundaries to create a healthier relationship. When lonely, I remember that “God makes a barren woman a joyful mother of children” and that so long as I do my part, happy relationships are likely to come my way. If I feel desperate about my job, I pound the table hard at “Ana hatzlakha na” (God, please help us prosper) and know that my work will not go unrecognized. And no matter how sad I feel, I find intense comfort in knowing that when I call out from the narrows, God answers with wide expanses of possibility and that above all, “I will not die, but will tell God stories.”
Hallel also reminds us of tasks that are important to remember during Elul – We hear about the gate of the righteous – and this is followed by a reminder that gratitude is good, that God answers prayers, that the foundation can be something that others have rejected, that it is essential to rejoice in the day God has given us. We know our job is to live, to tell of all that God has done for us, to rejoice, to accept what others might reject.
Also, to sing together with those we care for – because God is our strength and our song and finding strength through song is lovely. I wasn’t expecting to make Hallel a part of my regular observance – it sneaked up on me after a while – but I am thrilled that I do.
And finally, if asking for forgiveness is to hard, there’s this nifty app from G-d Cast.